Taliban expand drug trafficking from heroin to methamphetamine

KABUL — The escalation of the war in Afghanistan is directly linked to the multi-billion dollar global trade in illicit drugs, as the Taliban seek to expand and consolidate control over drug production and trafficking and to diversify from methamphetamine heroin, in what an Afghan anti-drug officer called “a coming disaster for the world”.

Afghan and international anti-narcotics experts said violence in Afghanistan had increased in recent years, along with the increase in the cultivation of opium poppy, used for the production of heroin, and ephedra, a plant that grows wild across the country and is used to make methamphetamine. Officials have described the Taliban as the world’s largest drug cartel and said the group – which fights a fierce insurgency against the Afghan government – is using heroin smuggling routes to push methamphetamine to new markets in Australia, Asia, North America, Europe and Africa.

KABUL — The escalation of the war in Afghanistan is directly linked to the multi-billion dollar global trade in illicit drugs, as the Taliban seek to expand and consolidate control over drug production and trafficking and to diversify from methamphetamine heroin, in what an Afghan anti-drug officer called “a coming disaster for the world”.

Afghan and international anti-narcotics experts said violence in Afghanistan had increased in recent years, along with the increase in the cultivation of opium poppy, used for the production of heroin, and ephedra, a plant that grows wild across the country and is used to make methamphetamine. Officials have described the Taliban as the world’s largest drug cartel and said the group – which fights a fierce insurgency against the Afghan government – is using heroin smuggling routes to push methamphetamine to new markets in Australia, Asia, North America, Europe and Africa.

The relative costs of heroin and methamphetamine make methamphetamine an attractive diversification for the Taliban, who are mentionned earn about $ 3 billion a year from trafficking in opium and heroin produced mainly in southern Afghanistan. Cesar Guedes-Ferreyros, the representative in Kabul of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said at least 85% of the world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan. In Australia, which along with Japan is a major market for the Taliban’s new product, a kilogram of Afghan heroin is valued at around $ 250,000. By comparison, the cheapest methamphetamine to produce is worth $ 700,000 per kilogram, experts say.

Taliban traffickers are opening up new markets by including what one official described as methamphetamine starter packs in heroin shipments. “They will send you 100 kilograms of heroin and add 5 kilograms of methamphetamine for free. There you go, try it. Just to start that user base, then they will start to overwhelm you, ”said an international narcotics official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The increase in e-commerce activity in the 18 months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has also given traffickers a path to new markets, he said, as the number parcels arriving through national postal systems exploded. “If you send 10 one-kilo batches to Australia and only one arrives, you’re still facing a massive windfall. It’s just money, the money is ridiculous, and it comes down to organized crime or the Taliban, which is organized crime, ”the official said.

The Taliban have rapidly expanded their presence across Afghanistan in recent months, in an offensive coinciding with the departure of US and international troops, ending a 20-year presence that began shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, which has been orchestrated. by al-Qaeda from its sanctuary in Afghanistan.


Drug addicts wait at a drug treatment center in Kabul on November 13, 2019, as part of a government-initiated mandatory drug treatment program. NOORULLAH SHIRZADA / AFP via Getty Images

Insurgents toppled districts, surrounded and besieged towns, and took control of a handful of border posts, giving them potential control of huge and vital customs revenues over the transshipment of goods to and from Tajikistan, from neighboring Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Pakistan.

“Obviously, with Afghanistan being a landlocked country, those who dominate these border passes have more effective control over international trade and taxation, and of course a way to neutralize the authorities and allow new exports. of illicit products like drugs, as well as incoming controlled substances. like chemical precursors “used for refining drugs,” Guedes-Ferreyros said.

The anti-narcotics official said a recent seizure of 3.2 tonnes of precursors – chemicals used to convert ephedra into methamphetamine – indicated “the capacity to manufacture between three and 30 tonnes of methamphetamine, this which in Australia would be worth between $ 2.1 billion and $ 21 billion. . “The precursors cost around $ 200,000.

Afghanistan was already the king of the opium world. But now cheaper drugs to manufacture offer the Taliban another way to finance their insurgency. A recent project funded by the European Union study found that Afghanistan has become a major “producer and supplier of relatively large quantities of low-cost ephedrine and methamphetamine” which could compete with the production of opiates. The report found that just one district, Bakwa in the northwestern province of Farah, with a population of 80,000, potentially made $ 240 million per year processing ephedra plants.

While Taliban control over opium production is widely known, drugs and other illicit activities such as mining assets have barely been mentioned since former US President Donald Trump concluded a bilateral agreement with the insurgents in February last year. He has promised to withdraw US troops, which President Joe Biden says will be completed by August 31, and has effectively given political legitimacy to the world’s largest drug cartel. The group’s leaders are feted in regional capitals, removed from UN Security Council sanctions lists to allow them to travel, and are seriously viewed as future partners of the Afghan government. Yet Afghan and international drug enforcement officials say they are no different from the drug cartels that have devastated Mexico and Colombia, and they call Afghanistan a “narco-state.”

The Trump-Taliban deal also called for direct negotiations between the Afghan government – left out of the bilateral deal – and the insurgents. Experts said that during this so-called peace process counter-narcotics operations plummeted, giving the Taliban even greater impunity.

“The number of bans done last year, thanks to the peace process, has gone down because it’s Afghanistan and you have to get into the hot and heavy because you get into forbidden compounds where you take out drugs to people. It looks like a military operation, ”said the international anti-narcotics official.

“So they restricted the number of drug bans you could do because you didn’t want to be seen as violating the peace process. This is the reason why the Taliban are currently targeting some of the border crossings, to maintain the flow of drugs, ”he said.

Counter-narcotics efforts were already under-resourced compared to the fight against terrorism, experts said, even though drugs finance terrorism. As the war with the Taliban intensifies, resources are diverted to fight the insurgents rather than to fight their source of income.

“Now we are fighting two wars – the war on the Taliban and the war on drugs, and we just cannot do both at the same time with the limited resources we have,” the Afghan war official said. Against Narcotics, who requested anonymity for speaking without permission, said.


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